PUTRAJAYA - Singapore and Malaysia on Tuesday (Dec 13) signed a historic bilateral agreement to build a high-speed rail line with a target to have the trains running by Dec 31, 2026.
The 350km, eight-station line will link both countries via a 25m-high bridge over the Strait of Johor.
The landmark deal will transform the way both countries interact and do business, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart Najib Razak said at a media press conference after their annual leaders' retreat.
They called it a "marquee project"in a joint statement, saying it will bring their countries even closer together, improve connectivity, deepen people-to-people ties and catalyse further economic cooperation.
PM Lee hailed the agreement as a signficant milestone in the relationship between the two countries. "It gives both sides a big stake in keeping relations stable and warm."
PM Lee and Mr Najib witnessed the signing by Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, and Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan, at the Malaysian Prime Minister's Office here.
The legally binding deal comes after both sides inked a Memorandum of Understanding for the project in July.
PM Lee said there is "strong political will on both sides" to ensure the project is done right and is a success. He quipped: "I look forward to taking my first train ride up to Putrajaya in 10 years' time."
While the 10-year time frame is a "relatively short period of time" given the size and complexity of the project, Mr Najib said he is committed to meeting the deadline.
"We have to work very closely together and be very focused and we must overcome all the challenges as we move ahead," he said.
The ambitious rail link, conceived in 2013, is billed as a "game changer" for both countries. It will cut travel time by land between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, compared to more than four hours by car.
Mr Najib said an international tender will be called in the fourth quarter of next year (2017) for an assets company to design, build, finance and maintain rail assets and trains for the line.
A committee, led by senior government officials from both countries, will oversee the various arrangements set out in the bilateral agreement.
The two countries will award a joint tender for a development partner early next year, to provide operational and technical advice as well as procurement advice relating to high-speed railway systems.
Three services will ply along the dual-track line, which will be designed for a top speed of 350kmh.
There will be an express service between the two terminal stations - Jurong East in Singapore and the upcoming Bandar Malaysia development in Kuala Lumpur; as well as a shorter shuttle service connecting Singapore and Iskandar Puteri in Johor.
Both countries will call a joint tender for an international operator to run the non-stop service and shuttle service.
Malaysia will also call a tender for an operator to run a separate domestic service from KL to Iskandar Puteri. It will make stops at five other stations along the way - Putrajaya, Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Muar and Batu Pahat.
Most of the line - 335km of it - will be in Malaysia, with the remaining 15km in Singapore.
When it comes to scheduling train services, the international operator will have priority over the domestic operator.
The customs, immigration and quarantine facilities will be co-located at three locations: Singapore, Iskandar Puteri and Kuala Lumpur. This means international-bound travellers will need to clear customs and immigration only once, when departing the respective countries.
Each government is responsible for developing, building and maintaining the civil infrastructure and stations in their own country. Meanwhile, rail assets will come under an assets company that will be appointed via an international tender.
PM Lee and Singapore officials later had dinner - which included durian - with the Malaysian delegation at Seri Perdana, the Prime Minister's official residence.